How To Host a Poetry-Writing Excursion

Everyone in the family seemed to be running. Marathons, Tough Mudders, 5ks. Not being athletic, I felt a little sad. I wanted to be part of the group. But my specialty was writing. How could I share my love for words with my friends and family?

That’s when I decided to create my own event. A poetry-writing event.

Why writing? Because that was what I was good at. Why poetry? Because it was short. Using family functions and the group text, I talked up the event. It would be a way of getting inspired, of trying something new, of stretching yourself. And hey, if all else failed, we’d get to visit a nice place and hang out together. Was anyone interested?

Surprisingly, I got a good response. Feeling encouraged, I decided to start organizing the event.

* * *

If you are going to write about poetry, it is good to have something to write about. It is possible, of course, to write poetry while staring at a blank wall, but it is far easier if you’re in a beautiful setting. While gauging my family’s interest level, I also asked if anyone knew any pretty places. My cousin’s girlfriend suggested Sherman Library and Botanical Garden in Corona Del Mar. I had never been there, but the website seemed promising, and admission was rather affordable. So I decided we would meet there.

A botanical garden was a good place to wander in the morning, but eventually people would get hungry. I needed a place we could sit and eat, some place with lots of chairs to accommodate a big party. A place where we could spend a few hours, if need be, working on our poems. I wanted a quaint, unique coffee shop, but I did not know the area, so I ended up going with my old stand-by: Panera.

Now that I had my place, I had to settle on a date. This involved a long group text back and forth, over several days. It turned out I could not accommodate all parties, so I prioritized the people who seemed most interested. For those who missed it, I could arrange a second event some time later, and make sure they got priority. Would that work?

Once the decisions were made, I then had to figure out how to get people to write poems. Some of my party were writers who were revved to go; others were new to the art and a little nervous. The teacher part of my brain kicked in. I began to create worksheets of prompts and examples, ways to get the creative juices flowing.

I also wrote up a full itinerary. I knew my family. I knew they were going text me day of and ask for all the details. To nip it in the bud, I sent out the itinerary the week before and kept a copy for myself to copy and paste when needed.

And so it was set. I called/ texted/ emailed everyone just to make sure they were coming and to field any questions they had. Then I waited.

* * *

My mom wanted to buy pastries for everyone. I, being a penny-pincher, said it wasn’t necessary, but she insisted. We picked out unique breads and pastries at 85 Degrees Bakery, and offered them up to my friends and family. It was a nice gesture. We nibbled on sweet bread and drank coffee from thermoses and chatted in the parking lot as we waited for everyone to arrive.

Some people were late, and I expected this. But once most people were gathered, I called everyone to attention and made my speech. I explained why I had created this event, how I envisioned the day going, and why poetry was awesome and not intimidating at all. Then I handed out my poetry prompts and showed them the examples. Having said my piece, we all climbed up the steps and entered the gardens.

The gardens were small, but they were beautiful and they provided what we needed. There was a sensory herb garden, a koi fish pond, a succulent garden, plenty of seats, and even a little “gnomeland” hidden in the back. At first, we walked in close-knit clumps, observing everything we saw. But eventually, we split up and moved more independently.

It was more relaxing for my friends and family than for me. I was looking at my phone, waiting for the late members to text that they had arrived. Once they had, I met with them, handed them the worksheets, and gave my speech all over again. Some of my cousins brought their kids, who were too young to write poetry. But they tried to participate by writing sentences and drawing pictures in their notebooks.

Other cousins brought watercolors and painted in the shade of a giant tree. My sister and my best friend chatted about work. I began to gather that this would be a more casual, social event, and I decided to roll with it. After all, I was so busy running around to really focus. I stole a few minutes to dash out observations in my diary. That was all the time I had.

* * *

Embarrassingly, my mom and I got lost on our way to Panera. We were the last to arrive. Fortunately, I had asked my friend, who left the garden early, to save us seats. Everyone was talking and eating by the time we got there. I told everyone they had until 3:00 to finish writing their poems, and then we would present them.

I had considered doing a more serious critique group, but I nixed the idea. People here just wanted to have fun and be creative. The point was to give them an opportunity to express themselves in a positive environment.

We finished eating. We finished our poems. I called everyone to attention and we began our makeshift poetry-reading. Everyone shared, and once we did, we clapped. We said what we liked about the poem. Even the kids were eager to read and show-and-tell their pictures. That was probably the best part—getting to hear everyone’s perspectives. And everyone did write and share, even if it was only a single poem.

* * *

As far as the event’s purpose went, I think it was fulfilled. I had created a fun, social get-together centered around art. It gave those who liked writing a venue to create and express themselves. Those who didn’t see themselves as writers still got a chance to stretch themselves. Everyone participated, even the kids. I believe that increasing participation in art increases appreciation, so hopefully everyone came out of the event with a greater appreciation of poetry.

All of this was good. But for me it was a lot of work. I was so busy making sure everyone else was having a good time, I wasn’t able to soak in the environment as much as I hoped. The poetry I wrote was okay, but not great.

I have felt the kind of intense energy of many creatives working together toward their craft. That energy is exhilarating, addictive. This event was not that. It did, however, feel very much like a “normal” event, one which might take place before the pandemic. It was actually one of the few times, I didn’t feel like I was in the middle of a pandemic at all. It was pleasant, it was fun, and I’m glad I put it on.

* * *

Tips for Hosting a Poetry Excursion

  1. Gather a Group and Find a Time to Meet

Ideally, you want to go with a group of people who are interested in poetry. This can be one or two friends, or a meet-up of strangers—whatever you feel comfortable with. Unless it is a very small group, it’s likely not everyone’s schedules will align, but try to find a date and time where people are generally free.

2. Find a Beautiful Place to Be Inspired

It is hard to write poetry in a void. Plan to start your day with a place where people can move around and interact with art and nature. Examples include: art museums, gardens, parks, arboretums, botanical gardens, and any other place you might find inspiring. When choosing a place, be mindful of how much it costs to enter, how out of the way it is, and whether people with mobility issues will be able to handle it.

3. Find a Place to Eat, Write, and Share

After you’ve gathered your inspiration, you’ll want a place where everyone can sit and relax, have a bite to eat and a cup of coffee or tea, finish writing their poems, and share their poems. If it’s a small party, you might be comfortable hosting them in your home. Otherwise, a spacious café or a casual restaurant will do.

4. Write Out an Itinerary

This is something I do in order to plan the day and make sure everyone is on the same page. To me, it’s a way of communicating with people. I like to include the dates and times, the names and addresses of places, things to bring, and estimated costs. If you only have one or two friends, this probably isn’t worth the hassle, but in larger groups its easy to get confused and having a set document that you can just text or email to people helps.

For an example of an itinerary, see the documents below.

5. Send Out a Reminder and Confirm Who’s Coming

A week or so before the event, it’s good to contact your group, remind them of the upcoming event, and confirm that they’re coming. People forget. A nice reminder will help.

6. Print Out Prompts and Examples

For people who are new to poetry, it might be helpful to come up with some prompts, in order get the words flowing. Even experienced poets might like the challenge of incorporating a prompt. I created a list of basic prompts, geared for beginners. (See document below.) If you want to try more challenging prompts, check out napowrimo.net, which has an archive of daily prompts.

If part of your prompts include a specific kind of poem (as mine do), you should probably include examples. You can send these prompts and examples to people digitally ahead of time, but I prefer to print out hard copies ahead of time and hand them out at the event.

7. Allow Time for Everyone to Meet

If you have a small group and you’re all car-pooling, then there’s no need for this, but for any larger group, schedule in some extra time for people to meet and mingle and for those who are perennially late or lost to get there on time. As a bonus tip, bring pastries! Nothing like a little sugar to put everyone in a good mood.

8. Explain the Day’s Schedule and Prompts

Once everyone meets (while they’re still munching on pastries), explain the day’s itinerary and go over the prompts. Channel your inner teacher, if necessary. Make sure everyone understands what they’re doing at the start, so there is no confusion later on.

9. Break Into Groups (and Reconvene Later)

Let everyone have the freedom to go at their own pace and follow wherever inspiration leads. This leaves you free to check on anyone who is late. Reconvene at a set time and place, to finish writing poems and to share them with the group.

10. Go with the Flow

As the event progresses, you can start to gauge what kind of group you have on your hands. Do you have a smaller group of serious-minded writers? You might try a critique group and give suggestions on how to improve the poem. Do you have a larger group of casual poetry fans? Just let everyone read their poems. Figure out the vibe of the group and go with it. It will make it easier and more enjoyable for everyone involved.

* * *

* * *

Thank you for reading. If you have a moment to like or comment, I’d really appreciate it. For examples for how I write poems, you can see my blog entry: How to Write a Poem About a Weeping Peach Tree. Or check out my other writing, including my poems, at www.rebeccalangstories.com.

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